Monday, August 23, 2010

The Railroad Man: "It's All About The Quality"

I attribute my love of my craft to my grandfather, W.E. Beasley.  He is the single biggest influence on my love of all things “quality”.  He was a simple man with a great love for creating finer things.  Growing up with Paw was the stuff kids dream about.  I know he had a hard childhood, and I could never get him to tell me about it.  Maybe that's why he was so generous with me.
     Paw was a conductor on the Southern Pacific railroad and made his run from San Antonio to Llano, Texas, called the Llano Local.   This run ended in Llano, picking up large granite blocks, which were headed for the Coast to construct the jetties.  
     When he was gone, the world stood still.  But when his run ended, we headed for his shop.  The list of “creative boy projects” was too long to accomplish in its entirety, but we did manufacture some interesting things.  My job was to find and research projects I was interested in, and Paw would join right in and we’d start production.  Our projects included blowguns, crossbows, throwing knives and even a mini trebuchet (we found the plans for this Middle Ages weapon in Popular Mechanics.)  It was 1/8th scale and could throw an orange 3 lots over.  I had hours of fun with that venture.
     My grandfather briefly took up oil painting (self-taught), but I personally think he found it too slow-paced.  This is his final painting, which still hangs in my mother’s home.
     I mentioned the greatest single attribute my grandfather gave me was an appreciation of quality, and that standard was applied to his tools, as well.  Paw found Snap On and Craftsman tools were a must for our various adventures.  And his wood shop was full of Swiss and German hand tools.  If the saying “Jack of all trades and master of none” were true, it didn’t apply to my grandfather.  He was a true Renaissance Man and master of whatever project he took on. 
     Here’s just a small list of what he accomplished:  He sewed my mother’s Baptism dress. I know of at least 3 Model 98 Mausers he restocked.  During his woodcarving period, he made several wooden chains with a caged ball that rolled a full 4” inside its wooden cage (and all carved from a 36 inch 2 x 4).  He embraced ceramics, and my family has a treasured manger scene to remind us of this phase of his life. He was a master gardener and spectacular cook.  We would eat Sunday dinner after church at his house and the feast would include 3 or 4 meat dishes, 4 vegetables and at least 2 different desserts---every Sunday!   And his cheeseburgers and fries bordered on gourmet.  He was a passable seamstress (the aforementioned dress and several quilts attest to this skill).  In his later years, we both took up knife making, of the folding variety.  If it was something I was interested in, then he was all in!

     As I entered my adult years, we both focused more intensely and specifically.  I took up watercolor and drawing, and he turned his attentions to clock making and fiddles.  I would watch him tirelessly steam and bend very expensive veneers of fiddle back maple.  Many times the pressure would break the thin strips, but he would never become frazzled.
     I watched him for hours; painstakingly carve grooves for inlaying ivory, using hand tools and a perfeling knife.  His eye was always on the goal.  The tedious work never wore him down.  His persistence was legend.  He rebuilt the German works in my mother’s grandfather’s clock until it timed perfectly.
     In 1999 lung cancer showed up with a vengeance, and one short month later he was gone.  I never really said the things I wanted to say, but  he was the stoic, quiet type who would rather show his feelings than tell you, and I guess I followed in his footsteps.
     In one fell swoop, an idyllic and ongoing childhood ground to a halt.  My fallback partner for any challenge was gone and the time to fly on my own had come.  In the end, all we have are good memories and maybe the gifts we’ve received from those who came before us.  And I have both.  His expectations of me would be singular….”Do the best you can.”  It’s all about the quality.    

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.          


  1. so cool, did he play the fiddle also? He was definantly a talented man.


  2. He played it, but not very good! He was actually looking for someone to teach him, when he died.

  3. Son, Dad and I were in a restaurant in Tennessee waiting for friends to join us when we read this story of Paw. Needless to say, we both were in tears and in awe. Do you realize that when you share your heart about him, I am hearing and seeing him in you. There is no greater honor that I can share with you. He was so proud of you and as he would have put it, "That's my boy."